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Holbrooke '62 dead at 69

Richard Holbrooke '62, distinguished public servant, died Monday after undergoing emergency surgery to repair a torn aorta.  He was a professor-at-large at the Watson Institute for International Studies at the time of his death.

Holbrooke, who has served in every Democratic administration since entering the Foreign Service in 1962, is perhaps best known for his role in negotiating the 1995 Dayton Accords, ending the war in Bosnia. 

"Tonight, the Brown community joins the nation and the world in mourning the loss of one of our most distinguished diplomats," President Ruth Simmons wrote in a statement to The Herald. "Seeker of peace, Richard Holbrooke's career spanned decades, geography, presidential administrations and international conflicts."

From 2009 until his death, Holbrooke served as President Barack Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, making him one of the nation's top diplomats. He was among a handful of leading candidates for the secretary of state nomination that ultimately went to Hillary Clinton.

Besides his work toward ensuring Balkan peace, he served under the Clinton administration first as ambassador to Germany and then as assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs before being appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1999. 

Under President Jimmy Carter, Holbrooke became the youngest assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in history, at age 35.

He worked in Vietnam for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and authored a significant portion of the Pentagon Papers.

During the Nixon administration, Holbrooke, a former Herald editor-in-chief, left government and worked as managing editor for the magazine "Foreign Policy." More recently, he has authored a best-selling account of his work during the Balkan Crisis.

Alongside public service and journalism, he pursued a successful career in finance. He was the managing director of Lehman Brothers from 1985 to 1993 and served on the board of American International Group until 2008. During his time on AIG's board, the corporation engaged in risky credit default swaps. During the 2008 global financial crisis, the corporation came to the brink of bankruptcy before receiving a large government bailout.

Despite these diverse commitments, Holbrooke managed to find his way back to Brown. In February 2007, he accepted a five-year appointment as a professor-at-large at the Watson Institute for International Studies. 

Holbrooke "remained ever true to his alma mater," Simmons wrote in her statement.

David Kennedy '76, interim director of the institute when Holbrooke was asked to join the Obama administration, told The Herald at the time that Holbrooke had been a "very effective participant in teaching and research at the Watson Institute."

"He has led student working groups, participated in classes, spoken at the Institute and —in general — supported our teaching in international affairs," Kennedy said. 

Holbrooke has returned to campus regularly over the years for events such as lectures, Janus Forum debates and small Watson Institute study group series.

In 2007, when asked about working for the next presidential administration, Holbrooke told The Herald, "It'd be fun to have one last shot at public service, and I'd like to do that."


Members of the Brown community are invited to share their memories of Holbrooke by e-mailing


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